CD Review: THE GOLDEN APPLE (First Full-Length Recording on PS CLassics)

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by Frank Arthur on March 26, 2016

in CD-DVD

A GOLDEN RECORDING

It only took 61 years, but, but PS Classics and the Lyric Stage in Irving, Texas have conspired to make legions of musical theater fans happier than the first time they heard the overture to Gypsy. Back in 1954, a long-neglected masterpiece-of-a-musical you’ve probably never heard of was written by two geniuses you’ve probably never heard of. It opened Off-Broadway to critical fanfare and moved — just over a month later — to the Great White Way, where The Golden Apple, one of the best-reviewed shows in Broadway history, sputtered and died after four months.

Sarah Powell, Janelle Lutz and Jenny Tucker in The Golden Apple at Lyric Stage

It’s not that its not accessible, intelligent, funny, clever, and packed with great songs (albeit only one standard, “Lazy Afternoon,” covered many times by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Sarah Vaughn). It most likely was just one of those ahead-of-its-time shows, one which is neither musical nor opera (it’s a musical comedy without dialogue and an opera without operatic music). Some scholars theorize that anything based on Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey scared away audiences, even though The Golden Apple shifts the focus of the ancient tale from adventure to satire in what is both a celebration and criticism of the American character (the show takes place in the State of Washington between 1900 and 1910).

Kristen Lassiter and Christopher Deaton were among the cast of 43 for Lyric Stage’s 2014 production of the 1954 musical THE GOLDEN APPLELuckily there was an original cast recording, but it was feared that a double album wouldn’t sell, so all we get is 48 minutes of highlights with an odd narration to link the songs together. (Just 2 years later, Goddard Lieberson at Columbia Records would end all that worry about recording entire shows with a 3-LP version of The Most Happy Fella).

Now, with all the glory of Hershy Kay and Moross’s original orchestrations played by a 38-player orchestra, the Lyric Stage’s 2014 production and its 43-member cast bring the 135-minute sung-through wonder to glorious life. The great news is that the 2-CD set — packed with lyrics and wonderful background information — succeeds far better than most of the “complete-score” recordings of the past quarter century. (I’m just bummed I didn’t get to see it.)

Jerome Moross’s music really is terrific, sort of an encyclopedia of popular American musical forms: ballads, cakewalks, vaudeville turns, music hall spoofs, soft-shoes, marches, even a Rodgers and Hammerstein pastiche. John Latouche’s lyrics are equally striking and impressive; somehow they wed the whole Trojan War/Odyssey concept to middle American values and speech patterns without sounding in the least pretentious, stupid, or patronizing. They’re also quite funny, full of sly jokes and double-take moments that require the listener to pay close attention. As likable as this score is, it rewards careful listening.

7-paris-drag

The show is endlessly inventive. The long “Odyssey” sequence (Act II) is done as a series of vaudeville turns, thus predating the similar concept used in Follies by some 17 years. The defeat of Paris takes place in a boxing ring. The competition for the golden apple is a baking contest. Helen is neither pretty nor smart, but the men love her because “she’s always willin’.”

The Golden Apple at Lyric Stage

I’m shocked at the pristine studio quality given that this was recorded live. I would have preferred no audience applause, but believe me it’s very respectful and not intrusive. While Moross went on to have a lucrative career in film and TV, Latouche — best-known for Cabin in the Sky (with Vernon Duke) and the additional lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s Candide — succumbed to a heart attack in 1956 at the age of 41. This incredibly well-sung, well-acted, full-scale, thrilling recording is the greatest tribute to this major American talent that I can think of.

photos by James Jamison/Lyric Stage

The Golden Apple
PS Classics
2-CD set with libretto and liner notes
release date: June 2, 2015
available on PS Classics

{ 2 comments }

John Morrow November 4, 2017 at 11:23 am

Is there a video recording anywhere?

Tony Frankel November 5, 2017 at 11:45 pm

I don’t believe there is, John. However, there is a video teaser of the finale, which is inserted above. I suggest going directly to the source for more info: Lyric Stage in Dallas

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